Books in Brief: Harry Crosbie’s stories tell of life in Dublin a generation ago

Brief reviews of Darwin on the Shannon byBob Quinn; Homo Irrealis by André Aciman; No Hiding by Rob Kearney and David Walsh; Ruritani by Nicholas Daly; and That’s Maths II: A Ton of Wonders by Peter Lynch

Harry Crosbie: His book of short stories will stir memories in older Dubliners. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Harry Crosbie: His book of short stories will stir memories in older Dubliners. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Undernose Farm
By Harry Crosbie
Lilliput Press, €12
He is the man who turned a disused railway station into Ireland’s biggest music venue which some of us still call The Point. But if Harry Crosbie has his way, he will also be remembered as a writer.

His book of short stories, Undernose Farm, endorsed by no less than John Banville and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford, is certainly one which fires the imagination, will stir memories in older Dubliners and teach younger ones what our capital city was like many years ago.

Harry’s stories, fiction inspired by experience he says, introduce us to extraordinary characters like Hairoil who was the son, inevitably, of a father called Brylcreem.

The stories tell of life in Dublin’s inner city and docklands a generation ago, full of characters, tales of dodgy dealing, life on the wrong side of the law, adventure and misadventure.

The word “entertaining” probably best sums up this collection. The tale of a less-than-honest docker called Barabbas does, indeed, have Biblical associations.

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This is one for the bedside locker, to dip in and out of and smile. And I suspect the smile would be Harry’s reward. All proceeds of the book go to the Peter McVerry Trust. – Paddy Murray

Darwin on the Shannon
By Bob Quinn
Cinegael, €20
This is “cli-fi” (climate-change fiction) rather than “sci-fi” and is set in a future dystopian Ireland where much of the island is under water because of rising sea levels. The protagonist, Flannery, a former advertising executive, whose marriage broke up and whose twin children were drowned in a sudden spring-tide surge in Dublin, knows boats well and is on his way west to meet up again with his former love, Celia, and old friend, Shanks, who’ve been living an alternative lifestyle on the well-named Inisfáil. It’s a rattling good story and ultimately one of hope. Quotes from Darwin’s Origin of Species preface each chapter and although the characters philosophise a bit too much, the plot is strong enough to cope and they’re believable enough as people. – Brian Maye

Homo Irrealis
By André Aciman
Faber & Faber, £12.99
In André Aciman’s latest essay collection, Homo Irrealis, the Call Me by Your Name author explores the somewhat complicated transitory linguistic state known as the irrealis mood. In the author’s own words, the irrealis mood is “a verbal mood to express what might never, couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t possibly occur but that might just happen all the same,” a line that rather aptly also describes a mood that is central to all of Aciman’s works. His exploration of the irrealis is at once fiendishly abstruse and revelatory. In the essays where Aciman discusses the irrealis in the works of those he admires most, for example a central triptych of essays on the filmmaker Éric Rohmer which act as love letters to perhaps his greatest stylistic influence, the collection soars. – Barry Pierce

No Hiding
By Rob Kearney and David Walsh
Reach Sport, £20
Large elements of a professional sportsperson’s life are monotonous, repetitive and dull: the endless training, the constant battle with injury. There’s also the enormous pressure to succeed, and the gnawing insecurity. Rob Kearney’s story is conventional in this regard. Ireland’s greatest ever full-back comes across as decent, hard-working and close to his family. Details of the various triumphs and disasters tend to blur with other stories; Kearney’s is the fourth autobiography in the past 12 months alone to come from this successful Irish squad. It’s an honest, brave, and sometimes compelling account of a sporting life. Joe Biden, Kearney’s “sixth or seventh cousin” (who’s counting?) makes a cameo appearance. – John O’Donnell

Ruritania: a Cultural History from The Prisoner of Zenda to The Princess Diaries
By Nicholas Daly
Oxford University Press, £30
Nicholas Daly’s masterly study of Ruritania, the fictitious romantic middle-European kingdom in Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau expertly surveys the concept of Ruritania as a tiny self-contained magical world in contemporary stage plays, musicals, films and even board games right through to the 2000 YA fiction of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries (with the “real live” model of Grace Kelly of Monaco as an inspiration). The long-running legacy of Hope’s Ruritania lies in a plethora of fosterlings including John Buchan’s Evallonia, Agatha Christie’s Herzoslovakia, Peter Ustinov’s Concordia and Hergé’s Tintin in Syldavia. Ruritania as a heterotopia remains as powerful a motif in the literary imagination as Shangri-La and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. An informative and entertaining read. – Richard Pine

That’s Maths II: A Ton of Wonders
By Peter Lynch
Logic Press
Those who enjoyed Peter Lynch’s That’s Maths published by Gill in 2016 will not be disappointed by this new collection of expanded pieces based on his Irish Times columns and beautifully produced by Logic Press. The problem of communicating interesting mathematical material to the public is a very difficult one and the author succeeds admirably. In fact, That’s Maths II is probably better than its predecessor, with highlights ranging from fractals and musical patterns to Tom Lehrer and quaternions.

Pieces on both pure and applied mathematics are seamlessly woven into a volume which should be in every school and college library, and on the bookshelves of every teacher, engineer, computer scientist, and all who are interested in mathematics and its many applications.

With this book, Peter Lynch has joined a very select international band of people like WW Sawyer, Martin Gardner and Ian Stewart who have succeeded in crossing this great divide. – Des MacHale

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